A one-two punch in boxing might be a good analogy for what Catholic apologists are going through these days. The McCarrick scandal, and other diocesan abuse cases, combined with a sudden and historic revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding capital punishment could have even the best apologist staggering like a stunned prize-fighter in trouble. From my experience, people are generally not receptive to Faith & Reason when emotions are running high and when so many unreasonable things are going on.
In the shadow of recent events, the following reflection from Father Donald Haggerty1 got me thinking about faith, reason, the devil and human intelligence….
“The devil is a great liar, as Jesus warns, which means that his primary target is our intelligence. His effort is to work his whisper within the quiet of the mind without detection, unknown until the damage is done…”
One of my sins, or at least an imperfection, is “stewing”. I’ll intentionally replay a negative situation over and over in my mind. It could be a specific thing someone said or did, or perhaps just a general annoyance. I’ll even fan the flames a bit with my own imagination to make it seem even worse. After reading Fr. Haggerty’s reflection, I’m left to wonder if it’s just me doing the thinking or is there some assistance from “his whisper within the quiet of the mind without detection, unknown until the damage is done” The devil certainly has plenty of extra fodder to work with in recent weeks to do some extra damage…and incidentally, be careful not to “stew” too much about recent events in the blogosphere. It may be just what the devil ordered.
“…One observation would seem undeniable. With fixed, persevering intent, he seeks to undermine a soul’s attraction for the attainability of truth. He wants to replace a hunger for spiritual truth with an acquiescence to permanent uncertainties and confusion…”
It used to be that there were Catholics that practiced the faith and followed Church teaching and lapsed Catholics that did not…and the lapsed Catholics knew that they were lapsed. For many today, there seems to be little difference between the two; it doesn’t matter how often you go to Mass and just pick the teachings you (or your culture) like best. In our age of self-identification, if you can make your gender whatever you like, you can certainly make-up other “truths” and still self-identify as Catholic. Desire trumps facts; agenda undermines truth. Instead of conforming our minds to reality, we try to conform reality to our minds. In such a world there can be no certainty.
“…The truth of Christianity is of course the primary concentration of his attack. A soul’s conviction in faith is the ultimate prize he pursues. In subtle whispers, he poses objections, raises doubts, insinuates the likelihood of false, unreasonable assumptions. He exaggerates and distorts what is sometimes called the irrationality of religious belief. He has a special love for useless questioning that has no end point, for reflections that veer off into idiosyncratic byways and tangents…”
When dealing with a complex and ongoing technical problem where I work, we strive to keep problems in proper perspective. This is difficult as our customers and sales representatives tend to get too emotional; mixing facts with perceptions that creates a false reality. At the same time technicians and engineers can get lost in the arcane details of a problem and start engaging in “useless questioning that has no endpoint.”
Fellow blogger Bob Kurland recently gave us some perspective on other evils committed by other Church leaders throughout history just as grave as today’s scandals, but many did not involve sex. Seems the medievals were not as obsessed with sex as we are today. How can such an institution survive for so long? Church history stands in testimony to its divinity as Bob’s post reminded us:
“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”
To this, I would add (for believers)…what institution on Earth would Satan work harder to destroy than the Church? And yet, here we are; it’s another piece of evidence that the Church gets some divine help. Additionally, as Bob reminds us here. “Let’s not make a blanket assumption that the priesthood has been totally corrupted because of headlines engendered by a political opportunist.”
“ …His deceptions are often couched in commonsense logic. Other times he provokes hyperrational brooding and strained complications of argument. He loves to bait a soul with a remembrance of its native intelligence and a need to think independently, without reliance on any authority for truth other than a personal determination of truth…”
We all like to think of ourselves as independent thinkers, but people are like sheep and everyone eventually sits at the feet of a master. Who will whisper to your mind about what is real and what is true? Will you sit at the feet of Jesus through his Church or will it be some politician or political party, a celebrity or talk show host, a television evangelist, your favorite college professor, or will it simply be the always “infallible” majority? Who is your master? Whoever it is, be prepared to give an account one day for what you believe and what you say. “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak” (Mt 12:36).
In the meantime, we’re not likely to “reason” our way through this current crisis, so what are we to do? Many commentators have mentioned both prayer & fasting, and who should disagree, if that is what our Lord instructed his disciples to do after another kind of evil encounter they could not handle (see Mat 17:19-21); but it should be done with an intentionality to change ourselves for the better as well as the whole Church up to the highest levels, without forgetting the many victims in-between who have suffered so much for so long.
- Fr. Donald Haggerty, The Contemplative Hunger (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016) p. 197.